Why Flirting With You Doesn’t Make Me A Pricktease
Emmy Fisher | On 05, Sep 2013
I’m sitting at a table in a bar, laughing with two of my girlfriends. As I get up to go and get some more drinks in, I notice a guy moving in the same direction, leaving his group of friends and also going to wait at the bar. We get talking, share a joke about the terrible music that’s playing, and he asks if he and his friends could come and join us. After asking my friends if they’re cool with that, I say sure, why not.
I’m not out to find a boyfriend. I’m not even out to find someone to have a night of passion with; I’m just here to have fun with my girlfriends. There’s no motive behind me saying yes to him, and I’m not picking up on any subtext from him. As far as I’m concerned, it’s just fun to meet new people to hang out with.
As the night wears on and we have a few more drinks, we get talking more and find we have a few things in common – our defiant love of pineapple on pizza, for one thing. He’s moved from opposite me to next to me in the booth, and he’s leaning in toward me to hear what I’m saying above the music. I make him laugh with a story about my next door neighbour’s drunken gardening antics and our eyes meet for a couple of heartbeats too long.
Later on, as a group we all go dancing. He stays close to me and we are in fits of giggles as we watch one of his friends drunkenly attempt to streetdance. Suddenly he pulls me in close, stares intently into my eyes and says, “Can I have your number? I’d love to see you again.” I explain that I have a boyfriend so if we meet, it has to be platonic. Suddenly his face changes from an open and relaxed expression to one of pure anger. “Fucking pricktease” he mutters, and pushes past me, disappearing into the crowd.
This is not the first time I’ve experienced something like this. This situation, in various forms, has occurred countless times to women everywhere. So I flirted with him a little … but so what? Flirting is just a form of social play for grown-ups. The definition: “to behave or act amorously without emotional commitment.” Flirting is not always a prelude to sex; it is an enjoyable social activity in its own right.
How many times have you heard someone refer to a man as “a bit of a flirt” or a “ladies man?” If casual flirting is OK for men, why is there such a double standard when it comes to women flirting? Not once during our interaction did I suggest that I wanted to progress our relationship past platonic friendship. Not once did I say to him, explicitly or otherwise, “I’m going to have sex with you tonight.” And even if I had, if at the end of the night I decided I didn’t want to after all, I would still not be deserving of abusive language and an angry dismissal. I thought we were having fun, that we were on a similar wavelength, that we were having a laugh and a flirt and that was all. Apparently I was wrong. Again.
So why do I experience such a miscommunication when it comes to flirting? Well it seems I’m not alone, for one thing. Misunderstanding the intentions behind flirting is very common regardless of gender. The problem with flirting is that it often relies on non-verbal signals, such as increased eye contact or a subtle brush of fingers while passing a drink. Compared with other arenas of social behaviour, the intentions behind these behaviours may be unclear. If you rest your hand on my forearm while we’re talking to initiate physical contact with me and create physical intimacy, but when I do the same thing, I do it to reassure you and show I care about whatever you are talking about, then our understanding of the same behaviour is very different. And that affects our perception of our future interactions, and our feelings about our relationship.
Henningsen (2004) explored this difference in flirting motivations and found that “men tend to view flirting as more sexual than women do, and women attribute more relational and fun motivations to flirting interactions than do men.” This was exactly the case in my situation – I thought we were having fun and making a connection, he thought we were headed for a night of passion. But why does this difference in how men and women perceive flirting intentions exist?
Ranganath, Jurafsky & McFarland (2009) conducted a study of flirting and found that, in general, both men and women tend to be poor at detecting flirtatiousness. They suggest that “humans are very poor perceivers of intended flirtatiousness, instead often projecting their own intended behavior onto their interlocutors.” So perhaps one of the reasons behind the miscommunication is that, because I flirt for fun, I assume that others do the same. Similarly, the man in the bar was flirting because he wanted to establish a sexual relationship – and he assumed that I was reciprocating. Then when I made it clear I had no sexual intentions toward him, he became frustrated and accused me of being a “pricktease” and leading him on.
I refuse to believe that this is a complete explanation though. For a start, I can’t see that anyone would take someone not wanting to swap numbers or initiate a sexual relationship so badly. If I wanted to have sex with someone, but they did not return the sentiment, then fine – I might be disappointed but I wouldn’t be as annoyed as this guy clearly was. I definitely did not deserve the abuse, and it’s tempting to just write this guy off as a bit of an ass, but that would be sidestepping the issue.
To be so angry that I had flirted and not followed through by progressing the relationship, this guy had been feeling wronged – and to be wronged, you have to feel entitled to something and have it taken from you. This is where the double standards inherent within society can damage men just as much as women. If society is teaching boys from a young age that women are objects, that they owe them their time and can be theirs if they just put enough effort in, then when those boys grow up to become men in bars flirting with women, there are bound to be problems.
The ‘you owe me’ attitude is the basis of victim blaming. It starts out as ‘pricktease’ and ‘you led me on,’ and down the line escalates to ‘you wanted it.’ This isn’t an issue of miscommunication. It’s part of a wider context of objectification of women and highlights why there needs to be more education on consent for boys to combat the damaging media they are exposed to.
Unless I’m saying, “Take me home, I want to have sex with you,” I do not want you to go home with you and have sex with you. No matter how you interpret me laughing at your jokes, holding your gaze or touching your arm; no matter what your intentions and how you project them onto my behaviour. Regardless of the build-up, the anticipation and the flirting, until I say “yes,” it’s a “no.” It’s really as simple as that.
Written by Emmy Fisher
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